STAFF REVIEW of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow (Xbox)

Monday, April 12, 2004.
by Casper

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow Box art I've always been a big fan of UbiSoft, especially since I\'ve been playing the Xbox. I would have to say that out of all the companies that work on games for us, UbiSoft just has everything that needs to be done to make a realistic game down pat. From the lightening in dark areas of maps to the crickets you hear on your surround sound setup, these games are made to suck you right into the game like no other. It started last year with Ghost Recon, which had a huge following on Xbox Live, to Splinter Cell, a game that Metal Gear Solid fans from all over, as well as action stealth lovers across the globe, would cherish as the perfect game. You know a game is mind-blowing when the magnificent shadows, flawless thermal vision, gorgeous night vision when hiding, and the moves that you could pull off just to stay hidden have you staring at your television in amazement. This is the type of game that UbiSoft wants gamers to play and experience - one that will help you forget what is really going on out in the real world.

Yes, this review is out about a week after the game was released, but you know what? I honestly have not been able to get myself off of Pandora Tomorrow. I'm not sure if I could put my finger on it, but I would have to say that this is by far the most addicting experience I have had in a video game in quite some time, and it is mainly because of the online experience. I will get to that later, but for now, let me just say something. This game is the biggest game that will be out this year next to Halo 2 - and that is even a close comparison, especially for those that are not huge Halo fans to begin with. Pandora Tomorrow has it all in one package.

Campaign Mode:

If you do not have Xbox Live, this game gives you enough gorgeous levels that you play as Sam Fisher to keep you into this game for awhile. The controls have been reworked a bit since the original, but all for the better of course, as UbiSoft has tried to perfect this game as much as possible to get all those that missed out on last year\'s hit another chance to feel the intensity. While the original had near flawless animations, this year\'s has added many new spy moves to make Sam invisible even to an eagle, plus new toys so he?s decked out more than Inspector Gadget while they still managed to keep the realistic graphics in the game. I will never forget the experience I had in Nice, France while on the train. I don?t know which made me more nervous ? the fact that I had Sam under a train while holding onto a support pole, crawling my way under an entire car, or that I was able to climb outside of the train and do a hand-to-hand crawl past passengers and then a train comes flying by and you barely hold onto the beam. Thankfully, I have the AirFlo controller for games like this, if not, the controller would slip out of my hands from all the sweat.

The levels are fairly long, as is the story, and you can go through this game multiple times in various ways without playing it the same way twice, it is that open. You are allowed various audible levels on each map, some ending the mission as soon as you are spotted. This allows you to work your game plan around what you feel would best fit the objective at hand. Some would prefer to just shoot out the lights and then sneak up on someone and grab their neck to knock them out, while others would prefer to just give the terrorist the slip after whistling a certain way to distract them.

Xbox Live play:

See, this is where the game is at for me. I had to force myself to beat this game in campaign mode to get this review in, but I can not get through to some people how addicting this game is on Live. 2 vs. 2 on Live might not sound like the normal run-and-gun FPS? everyone is accustomed to, but that?s what makes it what it is ? a true stealth multiplayer, something no game has been able to pull off in this manner. So you want to be a spy, huh? Well, here are some smoke grenades, a few flash bangs; a spy bullet or two; and a couple of sticky cams; but realize you only have a taser gun and the shadows to overcome the heavily equipped mercenary. Mercenaries are given assault rifles; frag grenades; cute little mines that beep a lot before you blow up, and some spy traps that use invisible lasers to detect a spy?s location. As a bonus to the toys, the spy?s get a choke hold move if they are good enough to sneak behind their opponent and hit the A button at the right time to choke them up (hence, the CasperClutch? that I have become popular with). After doing so, you can kill them by snapping their neck, knock them unconscious, or drag them around the map for a nice view of the scenery while whispering sweet nothings into their ear. The mercenaries are unable to do a thing once they are choked up and can only hope that if they spot someone behind them, that they are able to use their astonishing melee attack against them so they don?t get eliminated.

Seems a bit unbalanced, right? Wrong. This is where UbiSoft has excelled like no other. The spy?s are setup in a normal third-person view like the campaign mode, while the mercenaries are setup in first person ? and not an easy one I might add. The spy is given a mission at the beginning of the match ? either Neutralization Mode (neutralize the ND133?s on the map); Extraction Mode (basically Capture the Flag with ND133?s); and Sabotage Mode (spy?s have to place a modem nearby the ND133?s to neutralize them). With these various game types, there is a vast amount of games to be played on Live, not to mention bragging rights. Players are ranked on Xbox Live using the popular ELO ratings from Rainbow Six 3. As this isn?t flawless and has yet to be really announced to the public of what points each objective or move does, it does even out the playing field as I can get into a game and look at a player?s ranking to tell basically how experienced my opponent or teammate is. Even though a few of the gamers that prefer the ?arena-style? of Rainbow Six or Counterstrike style games tend to complain about the 2 vs. 2 aspects of this game on Live, I will not be the first when I say that it shouldn?t be any other way, great choice. Those without the superb broadband connections can even host full games now in case they have problems to searching for a game. Speaking of searching for games, another reason Xbox gamers love UbiSoft is that a few days after a known problem was found when using Optimatch to find games, there was a patch released to fix this issue. It?s good to have a company that cares about the gamers, but it would have been nice have this thoroughly tested a bit more and fixed pre-production.

While I sit back and praise the graphics on this game, I will not say that they are flawless for everyone. Why does one of the best designed games for the Xbox not support 480p? I can?t see why anyone would ignore that when they make the game this good, but alas, it is not only UbiSoft that has done it, but many other developers out there decide not to help out the older gamers that take pride in their high-tech setup, minus the common Dolby Digital. One reason I bring this up is because I notice that when walking with Sam, the neon light that is on his back shows some pixels that usually wouldn?t be noticeable in other games, even after adjusting the brightness, and it tends to get a tad annoying when you have this extra boxy glare that is around him. This is only noticeable in certain shaded areas, so it?s more of a slight distraction, rather than a flaw.

All in all, I love this game and realize that I will not be going near another Xbox Live game until Halo 2 comes out, or some sleeper hit decides to come out of the woodworks. I have faith in UbiSoft giving us enough downloadable content to keep us up more hours out of the night than our boss will allow and realize that this could possibly ruin a much needed summer for those that have suffered through a horrendous winter in the Northeast.

Overall: 9.8 / 10
Gameplay: 10.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.8 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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